Vinyl Newbie - So Many Questions!

New to these forums and new to vinyl, but longtime audiophile, so I feel comfortable saying that I know what I’m hearing but can’t figure out why. 

It would probably help if I summarize my system to aid in troubleshooting:

Marantz TT 15S1

iFi Zen phono preamp

Naim Uniti Atom as streamer/preamp/dac

Conrad Johnson CAV-45 S2

Klipsch Cornwall IV

I’ll start with the easy one

1.  I followed the setup instructions for the Marantz tt meticulously. Every time I start the motor, the belt squeaks and slips on the motor pulley before getting up to speed. It’s annoying and really cheapens the experience. Is this normal?


2.  The sound quality ranges from very bad to very good, largely dependent on the record. I don’t have a large collection as I just started with vinyl, but many of these pressings sound absolutely terrible. Many sound distorted and compressed. Many have tons of clicks and pops. I double checked the settings on my phono preamp which is really just moving magnet. There aren’t a lot of settings. One for MM and three for MC. I connected the phono preamp directly to the Conrad Johnson instead of the analog input on the Naim and while it does sound “better”, it’s mostly the same. 

I don’t have another cartridge or phono preamp to swap out and try to isolate the issue. Could it simply be that the phono preamp is defective?  It seems that if the cartridge was defective it would just all sound bad.  Could it be that my system is revealing enough that it’s showing the limitation of the iFI?  I just think it would sound “good” all the time, but never really “great”. Could it be that all of these pressings are so incredibly crappy that I’m hearing just how bad they are?

The couple of “mainstream” records do sound pretty good. Namely Gregory Porter, Adele, Gary Clark Jr, Miles Davis, John Coltrane. But even a couple of those have inconsistently cut holes for the spindle (some of them bind), significant warps, and some off-center labels. The independent stuff is all over the map. A couple of the John Prine pressings sound very good, but have soooo many clicks and pops it’s ridiculous - even after cleaning. And one of them wouldn’t even go on the spindle because the hole was so small. 

Anyway, I’m just perplexed and pretty annoyed. I’ve debated buying another turntable (with cartridge) and phono preamp just to see if there’s any change.  Any suggestions?  Is that my best course of action - to just buy another preamp and cartridge to troubleshoot? 


You have a decent turntable.  I owned a Clearaudio Emotion for quite a while and it is very similar to your table.  You have a really cheap phono stage.  

Here are a few suggestions.

Try getting a really thin sheet of sorbothane and setting the motor on that.  Thin being the key, if it's too thick the belt may ride too high and come off the platter.  The sorbothane can leave stains on things, so take that into consideration.  Blue tack might work.  The thing I least liked about my Emotion was that the motor could move around.  The sorbothane really helped.

Don't be afraid to give the platter a little spin and give the motor a little help to avoid the belt slipping.

The ticks and pops become less noticeable as you get better gear.  People are often surprised when they hear a really good analog setup and it's dead quiet.

Many new pressings have a lot of ticks and pops.  Static electricity can also be an issue.  Cleaning records can help with this, and there are devices that are purported to reduce static (I haven't tried any, so won't comment on their efficacy).

There are places you can get information on the quality of different pressings.  The Steve Hoffman forums are one and you can also look up the release on Discogs and see ratings and often there will be comments about the pressing quality.  Unfortunately, it's often a crap shoot - one person will get a great copy and the next person will get a poor copy.

If you are open to an upgrade, check out the Parks Puffin.  I think they are under $500 new.  It's a great phono stage at its price level and has a "Magic" setting that will reduce clicks and pops.

If you have a hi-fi shop nearby, take the table in and have them check your setup and the cartridge.  That shouldn't cost much.  

Thank you go all of you who have responded to my questions - it's been a tremendous help.  I wanted to provide an update and, perhaps, ask one more question.

I tried a different cartridge (Rega Super Elys) that I picked up here on AudiogoN for a reasonable price - just to rule out any issues with my cartridge.  While it sounded "different", it certainly wasn't better and most of my issues persisted.  I took that to be good news.

Next, I tried another "budget" phone preamp (a Schiit Mani, also picked up here on AudiogoN), to rule out any issues with my iFi Zen Phono.  I figured that if I bought stuff cheap enough, there was little to no risk and the troubleshooting could continue without spending needless money.

In the meantime, I followed all of your advice and walked through the setup process of my turntable again. I'm not sure if I heard any improvement, but it helped me feel confident that I had done things properly.

All of this lead me to the conclusion (as many of you already pointed out), that I needed a "real" phono preamp - something more in keeping with the quality of the rest of my system.  Against my better judgement, I got on eBay and bid (and "won") a Lehmann Audio Black Cube SE.  Unfortunately, there was something loose rattling around inside the external power supply, so I didn't even risk trying it out and promptly requested a return authorization.  Next, I purchased a Dynavector P-75 Mk3 for a very good price and was optimistic that it would be "the one".  Sadly, I experienced a terrible ground loop that I absolutely could not eliminate, leading me to conclude that there was an issue with the unit itself.  The seller hadn't used it in a few years, so couldn't rule out that there was a problem.  He kindly refunded the purchase and I sent it back to him.

Finally....I purchased a Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL phono preamp from a very nice seller here on AudiogoN which arrived yesterday.  I promptly unpacked it, marveling at how substantial and beautiful it is.  I hooked it up directly between my turntable and control amplifier (integrated) and put on the first record.  It was a revelation!!  This thing is so quiet and dynamic, it's amazing!  I have lots more listening to do, but I can finally hear where vinyl is "as good as" a nice digital front end and clearly has the potential to beat it. 

All of which leads me to one more question, if you will indulge me.  As you may recall, my cartridge is a Clearaudio Virtuoso which is a ~$1,000 moving magnet cartridge.  I would like to try moving coil but am wondering whether something "affordable" like the Denon DL-103 could possibly equal or better the Clearaudio, or is that unrealistic?  If so, what would I need to budget for something that would clearly surpass the Clearaudio - and do you have any specific recommendations?  I like to keep it under $1,500 if at all possible.  

Again - I want to thank you all for your thoughtful replies and assistance.  It's been a struggle and, at times, incredibly frustrating, but I feel like I'm seeing some light at the end of the tunnel and am looking forward to buying more records and actually enjoying my investment.  


There may be an issue with the Marantz setup instructions.  Look into the forum discussion below.  Hope this helps.


Marantz  TT-15S1 Contradicting Setup Instructions